Deck the Halls: Two Key Tactics to Preparing Your Contact Center for the Holiday Spikes
by Patty Isnor in Customer Service Outsourcing, Patty Isnor
The National Retail Foundation is forecasting that Americans will spend $600 billion this holiday season. This annual mad rush to prepare the contact center for the holiday season inevitably presents a challenge for contact centers nationwide. Massive spikes in demand mean massive potential for interruption to customer service operations. Unquestionably, holiday madness can also impact team morale, agent stress, and absenteeism.
So how can contact centers overcome these challenges this holiday season?
1. Excellent Communication
Constant and effective communication is essential to sustaining quality customer experience in the face of increased call volume. Here’s our holiday primer for communicating with your contact center team.
- Communicate early and often. If your business has unique product offerings for the holidays, ensuring that your marketing, sales, and distribution teams are connected at the hip to the call center is good for everyone. Remove barriers to real-time communication between your teams so you can adjust on the fly – whether that means adding muscle to the frontlines to respond to problems originating in the warehouse or whether it means doing spot training to help agents respond to “holiday specific” issues.
- Implement process changes effectively. Whether you’re switching up priorities to adjust for demand or simply changing regular hours of operation to meet increased volume, be clear about these process changes so that no one gets lost in the transition.
- Be open and honest about expectations. It’s no secret that this time of year can be stressful, especially when reality doesn’t match up to expectations. Be frank and honest with agents about how hard your seasonal spike will be and then inspire and incent them to tough it out. We learned this one the hard way. Downplaying a forecasted spike for a large client, we assured concerned agents that it wouldn’t be that bad and not to worry. They were subsequently unprepared for how tough it really was and absenteeism went up. The following year as peak season approached, we were totally frank with the team. We said, yes, it is going to be hard. We are tough enough to handle it. If we all pull together, we can get through it. Lo and behold, absenteeism went down (even lower than non-peak rates) and we nailed the grade of service during the toughest six weeks of the year.
- Anticipate how the holidays will impact your SLA and KPIs. Adjust metrics as necessary, with the perspective that a reduced incident rate may become more important than reduced average length of phone call.
- Conduct anticipatory outbound calls as necessary. Depending on your product offering, regular customers may need reminders or preparation regarding standing orders, delivery timing, and more.
2. Solid Team Work
In setting realistic expectations for your agents, you want to be careful you don’t end up scaring them about what’s to come. Decreased morale and increased absenteeism are surefire ways to negatively impact customer experience. Here are a handful of ways to engage your contact center team to boost morale.
- Get creative in your main message for getting through the season. Whether it’s “Operation Save Thanksgiving” or “Holiday Hell 2014,” branding your painful peak with something creative and funny can rally the troops and give your agents a mission to embrace. Create a culture of resilience, and pep the team up to be proud of this shared responsibility.
- Reward team achievement. Providing extra perks and little bonuses at this time of year does wonders for boosting enthusiasm. We live by the motto: “When something seriously sucks, put a t-shirt on it.” For example, our emergency roadside assistance team proudly wore their “Winter Suffer Fest 2014. Bring it.” T-shirts during last winter’s relentless Polar Vortex. They saw themselves as tough and capable and almost welcomed the Code Red days when volume exceeded 300% of forecast! And, of course, in the contact center world, keeping the troops well fed goes a long, long way. Bring on treats and holiday themed meals to keep morale high.
- Hire and train effectively for this peak season. Reverse engineer your ramp up carefully. Your operations team and your workforce team need to be in sync to make sure the right “reads” are in the forecast and your recruiting and training teams have the time they need. Don’t risk throwing new hires in at the deep end just as the holiday demand hits. Investing in at least a few days in an ICU environment on the floor might turn out to be the best training money you ever spend.
- Turn to gamification and creative incentive programs to motivate your team when holiday demand reaches its peak. When your contact center agents have a reason to be excited about the work they’re doing, their positive attitude will reflect directly on customer experience.
Ultimately, preparing your contact center for the holiday season is about anticipating needs, setting realistic expectations, and making sure everyone is on the same page. It’s easy to fall prey to the stress of the season, but with careful planning, it’s possible to keep the holiday spirit high so that both your agents and your customers can have a great experience